Prayer, calls for peace mark anti-violence event in downtown Fresno (video)

The Fresno BeeApril 13, 2014 

Nearly 100 people gathered Sunday afternoon in Eaton Plaza in Fresno for a stop-the-violence rally.

THE FRESNO BEE

Near the end of a stop-the-violence rally Sunday afternoon in downtown Fresno, a hush fell over the crowd after community organizer Bryson White called for a moment of silence.

Then, one by one, several of those present began to say -- in voices ranging from barely audible to very loud -- the names of people they knew who were victims of violence.

Some of the nearly 100 people who had gathered in Eaton Plaza listed multiple names, a testament to how deeply violence has touched some in the city.

"The reason that we are having this event today is because we are unhappy about the amount of violence that has gone on in our community over the last month or so," said the Rev. Booker T. Lewis II, pastor of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Fresno.

In that time, there have been 30 shootings, 16 victims -- and six deaths.

"That's a mess to me; that's unacceptable," he said. "It's not something that we just want to live with."

It's also what spurred the rally, which comes about six weeks after a peace walk drew a group of pastors and churchgoers into a part of Fresno marked by poverty, neglect and crime.

The Sunday evening event featured prayer, speeches and singing.

Janice Sumler recalled the event that led her and her sister Cheryl to form their group, Take A Stand Committee -- a father trying to protect his two young children as bullets flew around them. One hit his daughter in the head. Just 9 at the time, she still lives with the bullet lodged in her head.

Sumler said every week she sees pictures posted on Facebook with "RIP" by them, marking another victim of violence.

"These tragedies have not stopped," she said. "We just can't keep turning our cheek to what's going on."

Rev. Christopher Breedlove, with the College Community Congregational Church, said the "shootings and violent acts that have claimed the lives of youth are more than the people of faith and the people of good conscience can bear ... Pulling the trigger of a gun steals more than a single life, it steals a generation."

White, a community organizer with Faith In Community, which includes more than two dozen congregations and two organizations in Fresno, called for prayer -- lots of prayer -- to end the violence.

"I think this is a good thing, because we have too much violence in our city," Fresno resident Lisa Waller said. "So I think prayer will always help, and I think if we continue to do this, somebody's heart will be touched, and hopefully the violence will end."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, jellis@fresnobee.com or @johnellis24 on Twitter.

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